ELK RAPIDS -- Nearly everyone here is familiar with Anne Avery-Miller and the crime she allegedly committed, an unthinkable act that appalled, yet captivated residents of this quiet, Lake Michigan community.
Nearly two years ago -- on Nov. 7, 2007 -- Avery-Miller's son Sam Avery, 16, died in his home of a gunshot to the head. His mother called it suicide, but investigators suspected murder.
On Tuesday morning, authorities arrested and formally charged Avery-Miller, 39, with an open count of murder for her son's death. She's held without bond in the Antrim County Jail following a twisting, turning, two-year probe.
News of her arrest surged through the village, and came as a relief to residents who've long argued and gossiped over the case.
"It's just a real negative thing. There's nothing positive," said Laura Kohl, manager of Elk Rapids Wine Shop. "It's toxic for a community to have that type of thing hanging over it."
Thirteenth Circuit Court Judge Philip E. Rodgers, serving as a one-man grand jury, indicted Avery-Miller after five days of grand jury proceedings ended last month. Police apprehended Avery-Miller outside her Williamsburg home Tuesday morning. A Nov. 16 pretrial hearing is scheduled in 13th Circuit Court.
The arrest likely doesn't surprise many in Elk Rapids, Kohl said.
"From what I hear, I think most people saw it as being suspicious," she said. "Of course, they don't want to believe she did it; It's horrific, but all of it seemed suspicious from the beginning."
'A fierce sense of denial'
Sam Avery died in an upstairs bedroom of the Elk Rapids home where he lived with his young sister and Avery-Miller. Avery-Miller, a barber, cut hair in the house.
For more than a year police would not say if the wound to the back of Sam Avery's head was self-inflicted or caused by someone else. It wasn't until August that authorities said a forensic pathologist deemed the death a homicide.
Avery-Miller received staunch support over the years from some in the community, including friend Deb Zerafa, who long contended Antrim Prosecutor Charles Koop led a campaign of malicious prosecution against Avery-Miller.
"This man lives for this stuff, and I'm not surprised," Zerafa said Tuesday.
The grand jury indictment lays out probable cause for the murder charge. It indicates Avery-Miller confessed to a fellow patient in a mental health facility that she shot her son. She visited the facility "immediately after" Sam Avery's death, according to the indictment.
Sam Avery also allegedly told a close friend shortly before his death that his mother discussed killing him, the indictment reads. Avery-Miller told police her son was suicidal, but her son's friend said he was in "good spirits" the day before his death.
Avery-Miller's journal, discovered in the home after Sam Avery's death, allegedly "contained documents which infer a plan to kill both of her children and herself," the indictment reads. The journal also had a "document which may (be) reasonably inferred to be an obituary for both children and Anne Avery with none of them surviving the other."
A handgun used to kill the boy was recovered on a comforter in Avery-Miller's downstairs bedroom, according to the indictment. The holster and a loose, live round were found in her night stand.
Avery-Miller is represented by Carl Marlinga, a former Macomb County prosecutor. He questioned why it took so long for authorities to rule the death a homicide, and said Avery-Miller is determined to fight the charge.
"She's got great sorrow about the loss of her son, but there's no sense of guilt," Marlinga said. "There's a fierce sense of indignation and a fierce sense of denial."
Avery-Miller played no role in her son's death, Marlinga contends.
"Everything about the death is consistent with a suicide. If it was a homicide, all my client knows for sure is she wasn't there when it happened and she didn't do it," Marlinga said.
Jim Foehr and his friends followed the story since Sam Avery's death. He believes Avery-Miller's arrest means authorities could have compelling evidence.
"I'd assume they didn't go out on a limb," said Foehr, 74, of Elk Rapids.
Residents in and around the village have clamored for information on the case, he said, especially in recent months.
"All the time lately, it's been like, what's going on, where is she, what's happening," he said.
Kevin Shugart, 17, went to school with Sam Avery at Elk Rapids High School, and the two sometimes "hung out." People his age regularly talk about the case, Shugart said.
"I had a feeling from the start that it was her," he said. "I guess I feel it should have come a lot sooner, but I figured it would come eventually, and I'm glad it finally happened."
Savannah Bedwell, 22, works at the Town Club bar in downtown Elk Rapids, and she lived in the apartment complex next to Avery-Miller's home when the shooting occurred.
"From the beginning, I think everybody knew this was going to happen," she said. "Especially when she went missing for a while; it shows guilt."
Avery-Miller disappeared for about a month in January and February 2008, leading friends, relatives and authorities on a lengthy search. She later reappeared and revealed she traveled to a women's shelter in Nevada.
Bedwell hopes to see Avery-Miller convicted.
"I hope she goes to prison for good," she said. "If someone could kill their own child, they should not be on the streets for the rest of their life ... I think she should sit and live with it."
Kohl hopes Sam Avery's classmates gain comfort from the court proceedings.
"Her son had very close friends in high school; it will give them some closure," she said. "It's a really serious thing for them to have gone through."